HERVEY, John (1665-1751)

HERVEY (HARVEY), John (1665-1751)

cr. 23 Mar. 1703 Bar. HERVEY OF ICKWORTH; cr. 19 Oct. 1714 earl of BRISTOL

First sat 22 June 1703; last sat 28 July 1746

MP Bury St. Edmunds 1694-1703

b. 27 Aug. 1665, s. of Sir Thomas Hervey of Ickworth and Isabella, da. of Sir Humphrey May. educ. Bury St. Edmunds g.s.; Clare, Camb. matric. 5 July 1684, LLD 16 Apr. 1705. m. (1) 1 Nov. 1688, Isabella (d. 1693), da. of Sir Robert Carr, bt., sis. and coh. of Sir Edward Carr, bt., of Sleaford, Lincs. 1s. (d.v.p.), 2da.; (2) 25 July 1695, Elizabeth (d.1741), da. and h. of Sir Thomas Felton, bt., of Playford Hall, Suff., 11s.1 (at least 2 d.v.p.), 6da. suc. fa. 1694. d. 20 Jan. 1751; will 1 Dec. 1750, pr. 23 Feb. 1751.2

Freeman, Bury St Edmunds 1694; high steward, 1694.

Associated with: Ickworth (Ixworth), Suff., and St James’s Square, Westminster.3

Heir to a considerable estate in Suffolk and Lincolnshire, Hervey first entered Parliament at the by-election triggered by the death of Henry Goldwell in 1694. He had previously been unsuccessful in contesting the seat at Bury for the Convention.4 Hervey proceeded to represent the seat for the following nine years as a loyal supporter of the Whig interest. This was no doubt bolstered by his friendship with John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, and (perhaps more significantly) with Sarah, duchess of Marlborough, and it was almost certainly through the Marlboroughs’ influence that in March 1703 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Hervey of Ickworth. The new Lady Hervey was certainly in no doubt to whom she and her husband were indebted and in her memoirs the duchess confirmed this by claiming the credit for securing the barony. This, she insisted, was the only time she used her influence to procure a peerage, having previously promised Sir Thomas Felton that she would acquire the award for his son-in-law.5 Of the five new barons created at that time, Hervey was the only Whig, and his elevation was said to have been achieved in the teeth of vigorous opposition from the other new barons.6 He took as his motto ‘je n’oublieray jamais’ (‘I will never forget’).7

Hervey was not present in the House in April 1703 when the majority of the new members were presented (possibly a deliberate effort to distance himself from men of a different political stamp). It was not until the prorogation day on 22 June that he was introduced between James Berkeley, Baron Berkeley (later 3rd earl of Berkeley), and Charles Bennet, 2nd Baron Ossulston (later earl of Tankerville).8 The ceremony cost him fees amounting to £10 12s. payable to the various officers of the House.9 He took his seat a month into the subsequent session of November 1703, after which he was present on just under 54 per cent of all sitting days. Noted as a likely opponent of the occasional conformity bill in two forecasts compiled by Charles Spencer, 3rd earl of Sunderland, in the division of 14 Dec. Hervey voted as predicted. On 17 Dec. he was one of a number of peers noted as being present at a gathering at Sunderland’s London residence in St James’ Square and he joined Sunderland again for a similar meeting on 13 Feb. 1704.10 Following the close of the session, he offered his support to his friend Sir Richard Cocks, who had been unsuccessful in contesting Gloucestershire in the previous election, assuring him that ‘at the next election your county will retrieve its former faults by doing you justice, and thereby not only do themselves but the nation right’.11

Hervey appears to have enjoyed peppering his thoughts with classical epithets and allusions. In June, when advising his heir, Carr Hervey, he recommended that the young man should consider how ‘Tacitus inspires the firmest politics; and Thucydides instructs you how to speak well in either House of Parliament … Plutarch will furnish various subjects for conversation; and Plato fill your mind with noble and sublime ideas’. He was delighted to welcome the appointment of Henri de Massue de Ruvigny, earl of Galway [I] as the new commander in Portugal that summer. He trusted that the campaign there would ‘now proceed as prosperously, since they have at last thought fit to send a man who has tam Martis quam Mercurii [as much Mars as Mercury], in him; no less than a master in both qualifications being necessary for that post.’12 He was also pleased to be able to convey his congratulations to Marlborough on his victory at Blenheim, noting how:

it seems a just reverse of fate, that the honest patriots … in an English reign, should become the happy instruments of retrieving those mercenary, almost irrecoverable false steps of a French one; for one can’t readily forget that it was to England’s connivance, if not cultivation, that the principal root and growth of France’s threatening greatness is chiefly owing.13

Hervey took his seat in the third session on 13 Nov. 1704, after which he was present on just under 52 per cent of all sitting days. He was noted by William Nicolson, bishop of Carlisle, at a call of the House as ‘the Puny Baron’. This may have been a reference to his diminutive size or a reflection of his status within the House as a Marlborough hanger-on, but it was also reflective of his position in the House as the junior baron.14 Absent from the session after 10 Mar. 1705, on 13 Mar. Hervey registered his proxy with Sunderland and the following month he was noted as a supporter of the Hanoverian succession in an analysis of the peerage.

Following the dissolution, Hervey accompanied Henry Fitzroy, 2nd duke of Grafton, on his progress through Suffolk.15 He was then active in employing his interest in the county for the general election in May. At Bury he was successful in securing a seat for his father-in-law, Sir Thomas Felton, though his other nominee, Sir Dudley Cullum, was defeated by his Tory rival, Sir Robert Davers. The contest for the county of Suffolk proved equally charged, with Cullum being defeated by Davers there as well. In the event, Davers chose to sit for the county, enabling Hervey’s brother-in-law, Colonel Aubrey Porter, to secure the seat at the December by-election.16 The election also proved the occasion of Hervey interceding with John Moore, bishop of Norwich, on behalf of a neighbour, Mr. Hunt. Hervey assured the bishop that Hunt was:

a person zealously affected towards his [sic] majesty and government; and (for ought I know) for that reason chiefly, or at least, for his being a useful, stirring man in our county election, he is likely to be involved in an expensive dispute, where if your lordship’s influence could justly show him any favour towards settling the difference to his satisfaction it would very much oblige all your lordship’s friends on this side of the country …17

Excused at a call of the House on 12 Nov. 1705, Hervey took his seat in the new Parliament on 7 Dec., after which he was present on 47 per cent of all sitting days. He was missing from the House for a week at the beginning of February 1706, thereby preventing William Wake, bishop of Lincoln (later archbishop of Canterbury), from settling a case in which he appears to have been involved with a Mr. Park over enclosing common land within a parish, presumably lying in Wake’s diocese.18 In the subsequent session of December 1706 Hervey’s attendance increased slightly and he was present on approximately 56 per cent of all sitting days. On 18 Jan. he was again present at a party of Whig peers (this time held at Lord Ossulston’s), among them Marlborough and John Somers, Baron Somers.19

Hervey blamed the malice of the Tories for spreading rumours that the Parliament would be extended beyond its constitutional life in November 1707. He believed that they intended thereby ‘to blacken our friends the Whigs by an insinuation of their being become unnatural enough to destroy their own issue for the serving a present purpose’. He returned to the House six weeks into the new session on 1 Dec. 1707, after which he was present on 54 per cent of all sitting days. In April 1708, following the dissolution, he acted as mediator between Charles Fitzroy, 2nd duke of Grafton, and Sir Thomas Hanmer (who despite his Toryism was a close friend of Hervey’s) to ensure ‘good correspondency’ between the two at the election at Thetford, where Hanmer believed his interest was under threat from the resurgent Whigs. At Bury Hervey was again complimented by the corporation with the return of his kinsmen, the sitting members.20

Unsurprisingly marked as a Whig in a list of members of the first Parliament of Great Britain, Hervey took his seat on 27 Nov. 1708, after which he was present on 39 per cent of all sitting days. On 21 Jan. 1709 he voted against permitting Scots peers with British titles from voting in the election of Scots representative peers. Hervey took his seat in the second session on 23 Nov. 1709, after which he attended on two-thirds of all sitting days. The following month he assured Cocks that, in spite of suffering from a ‘defluxion of rheum’, he was using his best efforts to get his friend’s bills passed by the Lords (though it is unclear what these were).21 On 21 Dec. he reported from the committee of the whole considering the malt bill, which was passed without amendment. Despite a concerted effort made by some Whigs to recruit William Henry Granville, 3rd earl of Bath, to their ranks, Hervey ranged himself against the young earl when the latest of a series of actions in the protracted legal struggle Albemarle v Bath came before the House in January 1710.22 In March he fell back into line and found the arch-Tory cleric Henry Sacheverell guilty of high crimes and misdemeanours.23

Notwithstanding his support for the ministry in the Sacheverell vote, by the spring of 1710 Hervey was thoroughly dissatisfied with the administration’s conduct. In a long screed to Cocks he outlined his complaints at the ministry’s abandonment of what he considered to be true Whig principles:

I have for some time disapproved the measures of several persons, from whose conduct I expected wiser and better things; but it is (I fear) as much too late for them to recover those fatal false steps as my endeavours proved too weak to hinder their being ever taken. I would not here be understood to arraign the counsels which set on foot the doctor’s prosecution, for sure it was high time to put some signal stop to such pulpit doctrines as must again bring upon us the sad necessity of more revolutions. The errors I mean were the incredible (though not unaccountable) treatment the motion met with from them for calling over the Protestant successors; the longer continuance of that den of tyrants, the Scots Privy Council; and the rejection of that most necessary bill for lessening the exorbitant number of officers in the House of Commons etc; all of which were carried in such a courtly manner as thoroughly verified the satirical remark, viz. that the parties had swapped principles …24

In advance of the elections for the new Parliament, Davers drew Hervey’s by now well-known discontent at the current state of affairs to the attention of Robert Harley, (later earl of Oxford), but in October Harley (quite correctly) still marked Hervey down as a likely opponent of his new ministry.25 Hervey had other matters to complain of besides the conduct of the former administration. In particular he was concerned at the poor attendance during the previous session of his brother-in-law, Porter, whose lethargy threatened both his seat and Hervey’s interest at Bury:

upon the first rumour of a dissolution I wrote to know your mind concerning your next election, and to acquaint you with their resentments at your last winter’s absence, which you have not furnished me with excuses for. I need not tell you what coy mistresses boroughs are, and that they never were more courted than at present. Some are so enamoured as to desire I would assist them in making their addresses there, concluding by your cold attendance that you have given over the pursuit. But my answer was, I had not yet heard from you, and that as long as you desired the little help I was master of, I could not think of lending it elsewhere.26

Despite Porter’s poor record, the resilience of Hervey’s interest at Bury was reflected in his brother-in-law’s re-election along with the other sitting member, Joseph Weld, as well as by the borough’s strident loyal address of that year, full of praise for Marlborough and for the ‘holy war’ against Bourbon France.27

Hervey took his seat in the new Parliament on 25 Nov. 1710, after which he was present on 38 per cent of all sitting days. On 11 Jan. 1711 he subscribed the protests both at the resolution to agree with the committee resolution that the defeat at Alamanza had been occasioned by the opinions of the allied commanders, Galway, Sir Charles O’Hara, Baron Tyrawley [I], and General James Stanhope, later Earl Stanhope, and at the resolution to reject Galway and Tyrawley’s petitions concerning the conduct of the war in Spain. The following day he protested again at the resolution to censure the conduct of the ministers for approving the offensive in Spain. The following month, on 3 Feb., Hervey entered two further protests, first at the resolution agreeing with the committee’s findings that the regiments in Spain had not been properly supplied and second at the resolution to agree with the committee that the ministers’ failures amounted to a neglect of the service. He also remained active in the service of the Marlboroughs, noting in his diary how he ‘travelled all the night between the 11th and 12th of April [1711] from Newmarket to London to choose governors and directors of the Bank at the earnest request of the duchess of Marlborough’.28 On 19 Apr. he registered his proxy once more with Sunderland, which was vacated by his resumption of his seat on 3 May.

In November 1711, in advance of the new session, Lady Hervey wrote to the duchess of Marlborough conveying her surprise at the prospect of Parliament meeting again so close to Christmas. She had understood it ‘would not meet till after the holidays’ but although, according to her, Hervey ‘had no thoughts of leaving this place [Ickworth] till then’, she assured the duchess that ‘if your Grace will let us know whether there is any business extraordinary, I believe he will take his measures accordingly, for I know nobody can so soon bring him either for business or pleasure as yourself’.29 It is to be assumed that the duchess did have business for which she required Hervey’s presence as he subsequently took his seat at the opening of the session on 7 December. The following day he was marked in an assessment of those opposed to the presentation of the address containing the no peace without Spain motion. On 19 Dec. he was forecast as being opposed to permitting James Hamilton, 4th duke of Hamilton [S], from sitting by virtue of his British dukedom of Brandon, and the following day he voted as expected to bar all Scots peers from sitting by right of post-Union British titles.

Hervey played host to a number of prominent peers, including Marlborough, Sunderland, Somers, and Thomas Wharton, earl (later marquess) of Wharton, as well as the Hanoverian resident Hans Kaspar, Baron von Bothmer, on 1 Jan. 1712 at his lodgings in St James’.30 On 13 Feb. he registered his proxy with Sidney Godolphin, earl of Godolphin, which was vacated by his return to the House on 21 Feb.; he registered it again on 1 Mar., this time with William Cowper, Baron (later Earl) Cowper, which was vacated by his resumption of his seat three days later. Towards the end of May he voted with the opposition in pressing for an address to the queen overturning the orders restraining James Butler, 2nd duke of Ormond, from engaging the French.31 On 7 June he entered a further protest at the resolution not to amend the address on the queen’s speech concerning the peace.

The extent of Hervey’s antipathy to Oxford (as Harley had since become) was revealed in a warning sent to the lord treasurer by Davers, in which he noted that he could not ‘omit telling you [Oxford] how much you are threatened by Lord Hervey, who in all company says you must lose your head and talks very impertinently’.32 The same year the by-election for Bury was again carried in favour of Hervey’s candidate, Samuel Batteley. Hervey took his seat in the new session on 9 Apr. 1713 but having attended on just that day he then retired from the chamber for the remainder of the month. The reason for his absence appears to have been ill health brought on by an attack of the stone but he was sufficiently well to instruct his wife to lodge his proxy while he remained away.33 Although Lady Hervey informed her husband that she had sent in his proxy ‘the minute I received it’, this cannot be confirmed as the proxy book is missing.34 Hervey resumed his attendance on 11 May but was present for just seven more days in the session (approximately 12 per cent of the whole). In June Oxford estimated him a probable opponent of the bill for confirming the 8th and 9th articles of the French commercial treaty.

Hervey employed his interest on behalf of his son Carr at Bury that August, noting confidently that ‘unless I am much deceived you’ll not meet with one negative there’.35 Hervey was not deceived and his son was returned in absentia (still being abroad at the time on his grand tour). Even so, Hervey was compelled to spend at least £40 on wooing the electorate at a banquet and Carr Hervey’s election was later challenged in the Commons by the defeated Tories, Jermyn Davers and Gilbert Affleck.36 Having successfully overseen his son’s return to the Commons, Hervey took his seat in the new Parliament on 16 Feb. 1714, after which he was present on two-thirds of all sitting days. On 12 May he received Grafton’s proxy, which was vacated by Grafton’s resumption of his seat on 26 May, and at or about that time he was forecast by Daniel Finch, 2nd earl of Nottingham, as being opposed to the schism bill.

Hervey attended just 4 of the 15 days of the brief session that met in the wake of Queen Anne’s death in August. His long-standing support for the Hanoverian succession ensured his preferment under the new regime and in October he was advanced in the peerage as earl of Bristol. In selecting his title he was assisted by his kinsman Sir John Vanbrugh, who sent Hervey a list of what he believed to be 11 vacant titles.37 His heir, Carr Hervey, was also preferred, with his appointment in September 1716 as one of the gentlemen of the bedchamber to George, Prince of Wales (later George II).38 Bristol continued to attend the House until the summer of 1746, after which he was absent for the remaining years of his life. Details of the latter part of his career will be dealt with in the second part of this work.

Bristol died on 20 Jan. 1751 aged 85. Of his 12 sons, four represented Bury in the Commons but the deaths of his two eldest sons, Carr Hervey, styled Lord Hervey until his death in 1723, and the notorious courtier and wit, John Hervey, styled Lord Hervey from 1723 and summoned by writ of acceleration as Baron Hervey in 1733, meant that at his demise the peerage descended to his grandson, George William Hervey. Bristol nominated his heir sole executor of his estate. Sir William Bunbury, Sir Robert Smith, James Compton, 5th earl of Northampton, and Lionel Tollemache, 4th earl of Dysart [S], were nominated as joint trustees.


  • 1 Hervey diary, 57.
  • 2 TNA, PROB 11/785.
  • 3 Dasent, History of St James’ Sq., App. A; Add. 22267, ff. 164-71.
  • 4 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 548.
  • 5 Add. 75400, E. Hervey to duchess of Marlborough, 14 Mar. 1703; Mems of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (1744), 135–6, 219–20.
  • 6 F. Harris, A Passion for Government: The Life of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, 101; Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough mems., 135–6.
  • 7 Diary of John Hervey, First earl of Bristol, 38 ; Add. 61363, ff. 111–12.
  • 8 Hervey Diary, 39.
  • 9 Suffolk RO, Bury St Edmunds Branch, 941/46/2.
  • 10 TNA, C104/116, pt. 1.
  • 11 Letterbooks of John Hervey, First Earl of Bristol, i. 200.
  • 12 Ibid. i. 203, 206–7.
  • 13 Add. 61363, f. 147.
  • 14 Nicolson, London Diaries, 233.
  • 15 Post Man, 26–28 Apr. 1705.
  • 16 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 549.
  • 17 Camb. RO, 17/C1.
  • 18 LPL, ms 1770 (Wake’s Diary), f. 10.
  • 19 TNA, C104/116, pt. 1.
  • 20 Hervey, Letterbooks, i. 229–30, 233; HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 424, 549.
  • 21 Hervey, Letterbooks, i. 262.
  • 22 Marlborough–Godolphin Corresp. iii. 1409.
  • 23 Add. 15574, ff. 65–68.
  • 24 Hervey, Letterbooks, i. 265–6.
  • 25 HMC Portland, iv. 590.
  • 26 Hervey, Letterbooks, i. 273.
  • 27 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 549.
  • 28 Hervey Diary, 53.
  • 29 Add. 61457, ff. 133–4.
  • 30 Hervey Diary, 55.
  • 31 PH, xxvi. 177–81.
  • 32 Add. 70222, Sir R. Davers to Oxford, 2 Sept. 1712.
  • 33 Hervey Diary, 58.
  • 34 Hervey, Letterbooks, i. 358.
  • 35 Ibid. i. 381.
  • 36 HP Commons, 1690–1715, ii. 550.
  • 37 SROB, 941/46/2.
  • 38 Add. 61492, ff. 232–7.